One Minute to Midnight, Two Minutes to Sunrise?


Well, the election is tomorrow, and we’ll know in a day, or a few days (or a few weeks), whether or not we have reached the end of our national nightmare, though “nightmare” is far too sanitized a term to describe what the country has been through over the last four years. In fact, it’s really time to call out Trump for what he is, i.e., the political equivalent of a war criminal, one who displayed contempt for the most elemental norms of human decency, utilized the government as a mechanism for harassment and abuse, and engaged in acts of gratuitous sadism. Trump has inflicted so much damage, and excreted such venality and incivility, that one wonders whether the country can ever heal without something like a Nuremberg Trial or a truth and reconciliation commission. But American doesn’t have a tendency to do that sort of thing, so we’ll just have to live with our divisions for another generation or so.

Anyway, how are things looking? Still pretty good, though not quite good enough for us all to rest easy, in part because we’re all haunted by the sour taste of the 2016 upset, but even more because it’s not yet clear what kind of killing spree Trump might undertake if and when the numbers turn against him. In any event, the math itself has not really changed much over the last several weeks. If Biden can hold the Firewall Triad (MI, PA, WI), then he’s basically free and clear, with no questions asked. And even if he can’t – Pennsylvania is still the only plausible target there for Trump – he has other very live options in the Insurance Triad (AZ, FL, NC) and a legitimate shot at pieces of the Landslide Triad (GA, IA, OH). Looking at it in reverse, Trump would pretty much have to run the table on the latter six states and pick off Pennsylvania (well, technically, he could get by without winning Iowa), and that’s a heavy lift when polls show him trailing, albeit slightly, in most of those. At the moment, the venerable Nate Silver, the man who has done more than anyone to make nerdiness cool (except for possibly Will Shortz and Orville Redenbacher), puts Biden at about a 9-1 favorite, which is probably right on the cusp between a “clear favorite” and an “overwhelming favorite.” If statistics isn’t your thing, imagine you have a chance meeting on the street with a woman who tells you that she has “a favorite finger” and wants you to guess which one it is. If you can come up with the right one, both the correct hand and the specific digit, well, that’s about how good Trump’s odds are of winning the election. So yeah, this points to a likely Biden victory, but there’s still the outside possibility that the woman on the street just might decide to flip us the middle finger, or jab a thumb in our eye.

That said, the Toteboard will be sending live email updates Tuesday night, but in the interim, here is what to watch for, and what not to watch for tomorrow.

Recommendation #1: You really only need to pay attention to the nine states in the three Triads (ten, if you want to include Texas, which may have crept past Iowa on the winnable chart), as the other forty states are pretty much already in the can, with Biden entering the race with a 233-163 electoral vote advantage. But, it couldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for early signs of an upset somewhere else, like Biden winning South Carolina, or Trump poaching New Hampshire, which would throw a monkey wrench into the machinery and force us to start counting everything from scratch. Of course, that’s real unlikely, so, look low and away, but watch out for in your ear.

Recommendation #2: Likewise, you really don’t need to pay attention to the cumulative electoral vote count that TV networks will be tabulating. News sources will start projecting, or “calling” several states as soon their respective polls start to close, but it won’t matter when they start telling you by 8:00 that Alabama, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all voted for Trump, or that Vermont, Maryland, and Illinois all voted for Biden, as those states are already in the can. Just watch the three Triads, as those are the ones that tell the story.

Recommendation #3: Pay close attention to any context the analysts give about where specific votes are coming from, and so anticipate that there might be a number of “mirages” and “shifts.” States that count mail-in ballots first may look very blue, but then turn redder as the evening wears on. By contrast, states that count election-day votes first may look very Trumpy, but then get bluer as they start counting the others. And there are the states that will be processing late-arriving ballots for days after the election, assuming they survive Trump’s legal challenges and shouts of a rigged election. These may turn things a little bluer, but there’s no guarantee. Context really is everything.

With these caveats in place, here’s the election night schedule:

7:00. This is when most of the polls close in Florida, and the tabulation will begin, but the Panhandle is in a different time zone, so figures will not start going public until an hour later. In keeping with tradition, this one could get weird. The state has already processed early ballots, so those will likely be the first to be reported, which means things will look deceptively blue early on, and then get redder as the night wears on . . . and then possibly bluer again if there are late-breaking absentee votes tallied in the coming day or two. The “almost final” vote count could actually come comparatively early, but it’s probably a good idea in any event never to pin too many hopes on Florida. Nate shows Biden leading by 2 to 3 points, the generally blue-filtered Inside Elections shows it tilting democratic, Cook Political has it as a tossup, and Larry Sabato tilts it to Trump. Can’t get any more ambiguous than that. But Florida isn’t the only 7:00 prize, as the unexpectedly (but delightfully) tight Georgia also closes then. It’s unclear which votes will be reported first, or whether the equipment (and people running the show) will end up melting down like they did during the primaries, but the early tabulation of absentee ballots means this one could be counted relatively early too. There are also two very important senate races going on, so Georgia has suddenly become a very big deal. Nate shows Biden by a point, maybe, IE and Sabato both tilt it democratic (!), and Cook leaves it as a tossup. Big wow.

7:30. North Carolina and Ohio are both on the docket, and both may end up emulating Florida, i.e., probably reporting the absentee ballots first, then the election night returns, and then late arrivers (possibly over a matter of days). If the democrats are ahead in either state at the end of the evening, they’ve probably won it; and if they’re not too far behind, they may yet pull it out in the coming days. NC also features one of the two or three most important senate races in the country. In NC, Nate has Biden by perhaps 2 points, IE and Sabato also tilt things slightly blue, and Cook says it’s a tossup. For OH, Nate shows a dead heat, IE and Cook both rate it a tossup, and Sabato tilts it to Trump.

8:00. A major vote dump here, of mostly inconsequential states, but the one biggie is Pennsylvania, which promises to be a mess and is being litigated as we shiver and shake. They don’t start processing mail-in ballots until election day, counties will not be following the same timetables for reporting, and (at the moment) late ballots may be arriving for days afterward. Yes, it would be great if Biden could just polish this one off on Tuesday, but it’s because of the delayed returns that we have to pay so much attention to all the other states. Nate shows Biden by close to 5 points, and the other sites all show it leaning blue, but not leaning super-duper far. Maine’s polls close at this time and, though the presidential race is not in doubt, there is one pesky electoral vote at stake and the marquee senate race with the past-expiration Susan Collins.

9:00. Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, so another important hour. Michigan and Wisconsin, which all of the analysts show as relatively comfortably blue, are another pair of those late-counters, and among the most likely to drag on for days. Be nervous if the early votes look Trumpy, but don’t be too nervous. Arizona is another in the Florida vein, with early processing of absentee ballots, and then what could be a lengthy window for late arrivals. A Mark Kelley win is also crucial for flipping the senate. Nate shows AZ as Biden by 2 or 3 points, and all of the other analysts tilt it blue. This might be the best Plan B if Pennsylvania gets ugly.

10:00. And last but not least, Iowa, home of the Field of Dreams, the Amana Colonies, and Pagliai’s Pizza, They say they’ll have everything done quickly, but remember the democratic caucuses? Iowa also has another one of the big senate races. Nate shows this one starting to tilt back to Trump by a point or two, as does Sabato, while both IE and Cook list it as a tossup.

Needless to say, the Toteboard will be incredibly relieved if and when Biden wins, and it will be absolutely thrilled if the democrats manage to flip the senate. But as long as we’re coming clean on fantasies, there are a few things that will really get the Toteboard to tap its toes in delight:

The Toteboard Fantasy Wishlist:

1. Biden beats Trump by ten or more percentage points in the popular vote.

2. Biden carries all three Triads and at least one other state.

3. Democrats win the senate races in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Georgia, Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, and, oh what the hell, as long as we’re at it, Kentucky.

4. The new senate votes to add more justices to the Supreme Court.

5. All of the republicans who spent four years enabling Trump will cover themselves with sackcloths, sit in ashes, and turn from their evil ways.

But, as long as we’re getting really selfish . . .

The Toteboard Beyond-Fantasy Wishlist:

1. Major League Baseball eliminates the designated hitter, wildcard teams, automatic baserunners, interleague play, extended playoffs, and just about anything they’ve adopted over the last 50 years.

2. Communities everywhere ban billboards, weed-whackers, leaf-blowers, single-use plastic bags and containers, and badly timed traffic lights.

3. Scientists find conclusive evidence that lobsters actually want to be eaten.

4. Herman’s Toteboard gets a shout-out on FiveThirtyEight, the Cook Political Report, or Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

5. Maynard Moose receives a lifetime NEA grant to travel the country, so he can entertain and inspire another generation of children (and grownups). This includes all-expense-paid vacations, of course.

Sleep well folks, see you tomorrow!

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